Saturday, February 28, 2009

Appetite-spoiler alert (you have been warned)

I seem to have misread the opening line of the introduction to this post on Arthur magazine's blog and assumed that "mellow yellow" was the streetname of some cutting-edge alternaculture new energy drink mixing--you were warned, people--dandelion wine and urine. But no! Editor Jay Babcock was merely suggesting that in this earlier article by "radical ecologist, system designer, urban forager, teacher, artist and mad scientist of the living" Nance Klehm, those two liquids were discussed ... entirely separately. Klehm provides a relatively simple-sounding recipe for wine made from all those dandelions my husband always wants removed from our yard (and he's a homebrewer waiting for the hops I planted last year to take off, so he ought to be open to this latest experiment, too). She argues that the potassium-rich concoction is "one alcohol that actually helps your liver and kidneys!" (Are you listening, o intoxicated garden coach?)

A few paragraphs later, Klehm makes a compelling case for, uh, personalizing your compost with a handy source of nitrogen:

We humans pee on average a bit more than a quart a day, at a dilution rate of 1:5 (the recipe). Each one of us are producing more than two gallons of free plant fertilizer a day. Or around 750 gallons a year--which is enough fertilizer to grow 75% of an individual’s food needs for that year. ...

I can't seem to find anything about the practice in the index to Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin's Complete Compost Gardening Guide, but Klehm tells you everything you need to know, I suppose:

... Peeing directly into your compost pile is great. So is collecting it in a jar or a bucket and dumping it into the pile later. Not composting? Then just dilute it fresh (remember the recipe again, 1:5) with some water and use it directly on plants or let it oxidize and turn into a nitrate (i.e. leaving it out until it gets nice and dark) and then apply it undiluted. Not only is this something that has been done for ages around the world, it is still being done. Most people are just hush hush about it.

Given that several of the neighbors in my suburban neighborhood surely think I'm nuts for moving from lawn to flowerbeds, I don't see myself dropping trou in the back yard any time soon, but the jar? Hey, I'm open. (Hush, hush.)

Actually, the Klehm article is evoked in passing merely as a preface to a recent and related Op-Ed piece by Rose George in the New York Times. George is the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, which was itself discussed in the Times here. She extends Klehm's argument with an international perspective:

Consider that since at least 135,000 urine-diversion toilets are in use in Sweden and that a Swiss aquatic institute did a six-year study of urine separation that found in its favor. In Sweden, some of the collected urine — which contains 80 percent of the nutrients in excrement — is given to farmers, with little objection. “If they can use urine and it’s cheap, they’ll use it,” said Petter Jenssen, a professor at the Agricultural University of Norway.

There's plenty more to mull over in both articles, but I'll leave the remainder of discoveries to you while I sneak off to the Little Garden Blogger's Room, bucket in hand.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vegas 4: Red Rock Canyon

It's surely a sign of major change in my life that, faced with a couple of unstructured days in Sin City, the two solo activities I'd seek out would both favor Nature over Culture. (Granted, I'd already seen the Strip and the Liberace Museum on an earlier trip many years ago, and besides, most everything was a half-hour drive from our spasinotel.) I've already written about one of my field trips; the other was a mere five minutes from the hocaspino, and shared its name.

After about 72 hours of noisy slot machines, smoke-filled casinos, interchangeable suburban housing developments, and motivational speakers (at the convention that had brought us to town in the first place), I was eager to head for the hills and get away from the crowds. People, people, everywhere! Envisioning solitude and a chance to contemplate my meager existence in the face of desert nothingness and the majesty of the mountains, I packed my journal, a book to read, and some water (despite the fact that I had to return the rental car and meet my husband back in the catelspa in 2 1/2 hours). So it came as a bit of a shock to discover that, first, the city of Las Vegas extends right up to the very edge of this National Conservation Area--past which they are not supposed to build--and, second, the Canyon itself, on a sunny day, can get as crowded as a shopping mall parking lot the week before Christmas. The following scene was unavoidable at almost every single turnoff along the 13-mile scenic drive:

Enough cynicism. What's everybody staring at, photographing, videotaping, and snacking in front of? Why, this, of course:

and this:

and this:

The composition of that third image is intentional, because (inspired in part by Fran Sorin's writing) I've been paying more attention lately to the way plants actually grow in the wild, especially the spacing between them. Not having much previous up-close experience of a desert, I was interested as much in the vegetation between the road and the horizon as in the mountains themselves, spectacular as the latter were:

Time did not permit me any hiking (and I'm not much of a hiker to begin with, though I appreciated the temporary visitor center's annotations of 19 trails, rating them from easy to strenuous), but I did manage to get personal with a succulent or two:

I wish there'd been more time, and fewer people, but then this is pretty much the way it goes when I hit the road. I may harbor fantasies of trekking through the mountains, but deep down I remain perfectly content to view the whole thing through a car window with some appropriately moody classical music playing, particularly when the visitor guide warns

Watch where you put your hands and feet. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, or venomous spiders may be sheltered behind boulders or under rocks and shrubs. Do not touch, collect, or try to kill these animals.

Let the record show: there are no such warnings in the Liberace Museum, though I imagine Lee faced many a rattlesnake in his time. On the other hand, the chances of getting slapped with a palimony suit in the Canyon are slim to none.

(PS. Slightly different set of photos, with value-added Unhelpful Captions, here.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Soil-ent green

Uh oh--as long as I'm enjoying my brief residence on Blotanical's list of the 100 Newest Garden Blogs, I should probably not leave a delightfully eccentric pop song/music video as the first entry newcomers see, even if it does revolve around the garden. Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. (For the wrong idea, feel free to visit my other, longer-established blog, which generally has very little to do with plants at all.)

In a hasty attempt to appear more conventionally garden-focussed, allow me to call your attention to this eye-opening post at Gardening Gone Wild about plant nomenclature. Actually, the plant part was fascinating enough (and made me totally want to shell out $3 US for the Chiltern Seeds catalogue for what sounds like some terrifically entertaining prose), but what really caught my eye was the revelation that

Soils have names too, but the current system of soil taxonomy is a whole lot more straightforward than plant taxonomy. There are six levels: order, suborder, great group, subgroup, family, and series. Each one of these represents quite a lot of information, and a bit of each level goes into making up the name of any soil.

I did not know that! Handy timing, too, as I've just started reading Amy Stewart's book The Earth Moved, which has me thinking about the contents of the dirt below my feet. I've been looking forward to reading the book since I first learned about it, and I'm only on chapter one so I don't have much to report yet, but I certainly share Amy's provocative observations in the "prologue" :

... I realized that I understood very little about the plot of land under my own house. Do I even hold title to this ground twelve feet down? What about twenty, fifty, a hundred feet? .... Is this little piece of earth mine, all the way down to its red hot center? ... And who lives down there, under my house? ... Millions--no, billions--of organisms inhabit my little piece of land, and it shocks me to realize how little I know of them.

I've been thinking mainly about those unseen inhabitants, but I now realize that even the soil itself has a complex identity, one that reaches far beyond such categories as clay (that's me), sandy, and loam.

Under the oak, she's having a smoke

We interrupt our regularly scheduled 65-part Las Vegas travelogue for a brief musical interlude, courtesy of Dent May & HIs Magnificent Ukulele (courtesy of AllMusic Blog) :

(Pssst: Want more May? Visit my music blog for another video and lotsa links.)

We now return you to Vegas Vacation, joined in progress.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vegas 3: Springs Preserve

Faced with the prospect of four days in Las Vegas mostly on my own, I did a little online research and turned up the Springs Preserve, a two-year-old combination nature preserve/botanical garden/hiking opportunity/playland/future home of the Nevada State Museum. I initially thought the garden portion was free--and that the whole thing was on the outskirts of town, out where our hotel/spa/casino/conference center was located. Wrong on both counts! The Preserve, which is not far at all from the Strip, will set you back nearly $20 ($4 off with AAA membership), but it was worth every penny. I spent over four hours on the site and still didn't manage to cover everything I'd hoped to. (Guess those hiking trails will have to wait till next time.) This place is immense!

My favorite way to describe Springs Preserve is with this SAT-style analogy:
SP is to the average botanical garden as Cirque du Soleil is to Ringling Bros. This is plant geekdom, Vegas style. But even to call it a garden is to distort the focus: there's a section on the Hoover Dam, a display of gila monsters and other desert critters, a million-year history of Nevada (narrated by President Martin Sheen, no less), a research library, a garden-design clinic, two gallery spaces, multiple performance venues, a locavore-focussed Wolfgang Puck (TM) restaurant, a swank gift shop, and lord knows what else.

I've posted lots of annotated photos here, but there are plenty more where those came from, so here's a mini-tour in words and pictures, starting with a rooftop overview of the entryway ...

Here's the sort of planting that greets you early on, and is omnipresent throughout:

The entire facility has a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, didacticism--the punchline is basically that, hey, Vegas is in the middle of a desert and the planet is on the verge of death and thus it would behoove us all to use less water and less everything. (Works for me!)

I was happy to see a compost-themed playland for the kiddies, encouraging them to enter a simulated pile (shortly after frolicking in an actual garbage truck full of simulated trash).

Compost is also stressed in the grown-ups section, too: one display (which didn't seem to be active during my visit, but it's a great idea) demonstrated how the same plant grows in regular desert soil and in organically amended soil.

Dr. Greenthumb's Plant Hospital was closed during my visit, but I'd love to check out one of these giveaways. (There's also an annual native plant sale.)

It's all very hands-on; in one interactive display you're invited to take a drink of water ...

... and when you do, lights on the other side of a two-way window/mirror are activated and you find out just where in Vegas that water comes from, and where it goes next:

It follows, then, that even the (water-saving) bathrooms are gorgeous::

(The truly cool part--long tubes that emerge from the ceiling and send jets of water onto sinkless sponge pads--is included in the Facebook photo gallery.)

It struck me as typical of the Wild West that, once you enter the main gate, you can explore the territory any way you like. There are maps, but there's no single direction to head. You're totally on your own, free to create your own "experience," as heavy or light on gadgetry as you desire.

I've got even more to say about this place, so watch for future posts. And start planning your own trip.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vegas 2: Real or Fake?

Time for another exciting round of everyone's favorite Vegas quiz show, "Real or Fake?" It's your call, contestants, as we try to sort out the simulated sights from the homegrown ones in a desert town obsessed with both perfection and water conservation, starting with the plant (?) life (?) outside our hotel ...

... the foyers leading into each room ...

... and planters in the lobby ....

Next, on to the Mirage (also home of Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden, which we'll omit for this round) ...

... before wrapping up tonight's episode with an easy one :

Thanks for playing, folks, and remember: there are no right or wrong answers, only True ones and False ones.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Only in the Las Vegas Airport

I"m not suggesting that the baggage claim section of the Vegas airport (which looks exactly like a casino, btw) is the only place in the world you can find a vending machine dispensing fresh cut flowers, but it's the only airport baggage claim section I've ever seen that features such a machine.

Two, in fact.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BBG #2: Indoors looking out

Of course, the main reason anyone visits a place like this at a time like this is to sneak in some warmth, and the Botanic Gardens do not disappoint: there are tropical rooms, desert rooms, humid spaces, dry spaces, and all sorts of other artificial microclimates within the Steinhardt Conservatory. An unguided tour:

That last image, btw, is of a bonsai indoors, and the regular-sized plants on the outside of the window and their cold, sometimes cruel world.

BBG #1: Outdoors looking in

As I'd hoped, I really did make it to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens last week. (Over time, I am learning to catch myself when I want to add an "ical" to "Botanic.") Yes, it was February, but as a hardy Western New Yorker, that didn't stop me at all. As I expected, there were plenty of somber, slightly depressing vistas like this:

And lots of picturesque frozen lakes and ponds:

But my eye was mainly on plants that look good in the winter. I'll spare you my notes on that front, since it is a minor goal of this blog to impart no useful gardening information whatsoever, but I can tell you I'm growing more and more fond of nice sturdy seedheads:

Monday, February 2, 2009

"We are beautiful living mammals on a garden planet..."

Sadly, I missed this particular screening of Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a new documentary about a whole collection of interconnected subjects I'm interested in to varying degrees, described on the official site as "the re-emergence of archaic techniques of ecstacy in the modern world by weaving a synthesis of ecological and evolutionary awareness,electronic dance culture, and the current pharmacological re-evaluation of entheogenic compounds." The lineup of talking heads interviewed includes Ralph Metzner, Alex Grey, Terrence McKenna, and Daniel Pinchbeck, among others. I'm intrigued. Here's a trailer: